Schools Budget FY10

The FY2010 Oak Ridge Schools budget was approved last night.  School programs as everyone knows them are intact — transportation for all students living within the district (including the alternative school and the preschool), and with the same number of teacher assistants that we currently have (a reduction of six had been previously proposed).  No additional funding is  requested from the City, beyond the 3.5% increase they proposed in their budget process.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is, our teachers — our absolute greatest asset — received no pay increase for the second year in a row.  As best I can determine, it’s the first time we’ve ever gone two consecutive years without any a cost-of-living increase.  I think there’s some hope that, once we actually receive the stimulus funding and know how we’re allowed to spend it, we may be able to give some type of bonus to teachers and staff… but it’s not the same.

Raises are cumulative.  Bonuses are a one-time feelgood gesture.

This year, we had a greater number of citizens (okay, three or four people — but still a greater number) actually downloading the proposed budget and examining it for ideas.  I think that transparency is healthy, promotes greater trust by our citizens, and creates the opportunity for more eyes to look for potential savings in the budget.  Not surprisingly, it’s difficult for most people to understand, not having the background that the board acquires throughout the year, and most of the suggestions turn out to be not very viable.  But, it’s worth doing — no one is infallible, and there’s no way to be sure that someone isn’t going to find something that the rest of us overlooked, unless we explore every option presented.

The real heroes this year are the schools’ staff, who followed up with collecting up-to-the minute data on everything from utility usage (as it turns out, we’ve achieved significant savings in heating costs through a new climate-control system and more efficient boilers in some of the schools) to sales and property tax trends (not quite as healthy as expected two weeks ago), and following up on the latest developments in federal funding stipulations (they’ve changed).

One question that arose from pubic input is the $200,000 allocation for the Trustee’s Commission.  This is an amount withheld from the funds we receive from Anderson and Roane Counties (mostly from sales and property taxes), and the amount is established by state law in TCA §8-11-110.  However, upon further inquiry, I learned that the Anderson County Trustee collects about $1.2 million in fees from all sources, while his total office budget is $540,566.  The remaining $600,000+ just goes into the Anderson County General Fund, which leads me to believe that the State needs to reevaluate the Trustee’s commission amount.

But that’s not something that could be achieved within the 12 days we were given to complete this budget.

For now, let’s all work toward a healthy economic rebound over the next year.  That will help more than anything else to ensure that the teachers and programs we value in our schools can continue in the future.

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